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notes on books

More than five decades ago Marshall McLuhan published his famous Gutenberg Galaxy. The book has been highly influential in a range of disciples from communication and media studies to sociology, management studies and many more. With the growing popularity in the late 1990s McLuhan became not only the Patron Saint of Wired Magazine but also again the centre of academic debate about the noticeable changes in the media ecology.

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Already in 2001 Manuel Castells took it upon himself to examine concurrent technological developments and publish a book with the title “The Internet Galaxy. Reflections in the Internet, Business, and Society” (Oxford: OUP). Save for the title of the book though, there is very little similarity with McLuhan’s book. This is not a critique of the book but merely of the title. The book indeed provides interesting analyses of the relationship between technological and societal developments. In a way, Castells’ Internet Galaxy continues a discussion that he began with his trilogy on the Network Society published in the mid to late 1990s.

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Castells thereby carefully avoids the technological determinism that characterises so many contemporary book about the internet and society. Instead he uses his sociological expertise to offer an analysis of how the Internet and related network technologies provide the basis for new opportunities and challenges for business and economy, politics, and culture. He devotes an entire chapter to a discussion of the digital divide, and emphasises that access to the Internet is not the only barrier to participation in the Network Society but it is a prerequisite for an involvement in societal processes.

In his chapter on “e-Business and the New Economy” Castells investigates the opportunities of new forms of production including changes in labor-relations. He also discusses the financial markets and highlights the fragility of financial markets that are subject to global communication via online networks. In some way that now can be seen as a prediction of the 2007/8 financial crisis, but Castells is not in the business of making prediction. Instead he sticks to an analysis of the present (2001) and recent past and from there on reveals possible directions for business, work and labor and the economy as a whole.

Although The Internet Galaxy was published in 2001 it still is a worthwhile read as it provides a well-founded analysis of networked organisation of society.

Die zunehmende Bedeutung von Videodaten in den Sozialwissenschaften in den vergangenen 30 Jahren wurde ueberraschenderweise nicht von technischen Entwicklungen begleitet, die dem Sozialwissenschaftler dabei helfen, mit der Komplixitaet des Datenmaterials umzugehen. Dies ist ueberraschend, da andere Benutzer von Videodaten, wie beispielsweise Trainer von Athletn und Fussballern, schon seit laengerem (semi-)professionelle Softwarepakete zur Analyse ihrer Daten verwenden.

Christine Moritz, die selbst das System Feldpartitur entwickelt hat, hat nun ein Buch herausgegeben, in dem Sozialwissenschaftler ihre sehr unterschiedlichen Vorgehensweisen und Praktiken zur Transkription von Video- und Filmdaten darstellen und erklaeren. Ihr Band “Transkription von Video- und Filmdaten in der Qualitativen Sozialforschung” beinhaltet drei Beitraege, die sich mit forschungsmethodologischen Ueberlegungen zur Analyse von Video- und Filmdaten in den Sozialwissenschaften auseinandersetzen, sowie 17 Kapitel, in denen Autoren erlaeutern, wie sie mit ihrer spezifischen forschungsmethodologischen Einstellung Video- und Filmdaten transkribieren und welche Bedeutung ihr Transkript fuer die Datenanalyse und -praesentation hat.

Mehr Informationen ueber den Band finden sich hier.

Das Inhaltsverzeichnis kann hier runtergeladen werden.

 

The other day I was reading an academic paper  on an iPad; the paper had a number of references to Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’. Halfway through the paper my desktop signalled the arrival of an email. On opening the email I had to look twice – the publisher Penguin had sent me a message saying that Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ was available as ebook now. Coincidence? Most probably. But the crawling and searching of our computer screens for activities makes such events increasingly possible and likely to occur.

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One company that engages in such actinides to monitor people’s online activities is Google. Recent publications have critically discussed these activities and pointed to the pitfalls for users and customers. Eli Pariser (2011) explicates how Google, Facebook and other companies use the tracking of online behaviour to reduce the amount of information made available to us presenting us with personalised information. Finds on Google Search are tailored to our search behaviour and our interaction on Facebook tailors the News Feed to show information posted by those we interact with, whilst other of our ‘friends’ don’t appear in the news feed anymore. The result is what Pariser calls ‘Filter Bubble’ that makes us to read, watch and listen to more of the same.

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Pariser’s book has had considerable coverage in the media’s review sections and on blogs. Whilst its principal argument is appreciated it is has been criticised for not taking into account the complexity of recommendation engines and the practices of people’s search behaviour. If an initial search result is dissatisfying we continue our search without taking for granted Google as an authority that shall not be withstood. We might even try Yahoo or Bing to see what finds they produce. Yet, on the first glance the way in which Google presents its finds suggest that there is an authority at work that provides us with comprehensive, objective and unbiased search results.

For academics therefore Google Scholar often seems to the first and best point of address to search for academic articles. Thus, Google Scholar has made access to scholarly research easy and convenient. You type in keywords into the search engine and it returns a list of finds ordered by relevance. The results link to academic journals that with the appropriate access can be downloaded immediately. Again, the impression given is that the finds are comprehensive and unbiased. No indication is made that over (more) relevant research might be out there than what is presented on the screen.

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s ‘The Googlization of Everything’ powerfully dismantles the view of Google search as providing unbiased results. Without discounting the benefits Google offers us all Vidhyanathan explicates the logics that drive Google Search and the implications they have on how we see the world. Like Pariser he explains how Google Search tailors its finds to our online activities. In producing search results Google not only looks at our past searches but also takes into account what we are currently doing in any of the Google Apps including Google Docs or Gmail. Moreover Google Search and Google Scholar only can find information from sources that makes it available to them.

In terms of Google Scholar this means that the search engine only finds articles from publisher who have a contract with Google to make information from their publications available. For example when I recently looked for literature on German sociology via Google.de I was struck by the fact that I was provided with information from amazon.de and self-publishing sites that hold student coursework but not from the major German publishers disseminating the key German texts in the subject.

All this considered it would seem that whilst Google Scholar and Search might be a good first site to start research it then is advisable to move to more reliable sources like ISI’s web of knowledge and other scientific Citation Indexes. Otherwise it would seems scientific/social scientific research also will be caught in the filter bubble; referring and cross-referring to publications only that Google provides it with.

Some References
Eli Pariser 2011. The Filter Bubble. Viking.
http://www.thefilterbubble.com/

Siva Vaidhyanathan. 2011. The Googlization of Everything. University of California Press
http://www.googlizationofeverything.com/

Neal Lathia 2011. Blogpost. Blowing Filter bubbles
http://urbanmining.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/blowing-filter-bubbles/#entry